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Mrs. McGuire: The hon. Gentleman identifies that proverb as Japanese, whereas I thought that it was Chinese, but for the record I remind him that I said that the 1995 Act was a small step on the right road. That shows that we agree about that legislation.
Mr. Hunt: I am delighted to hear that clarification. The Minister's tone, both just now and earlier in the debate, is considerably different from the one that I have heard adopted on other occasions, by her and other Ministers. However, my point is that we are still very much at the start of the journey, even after all that legislation.
For example, Martine Wright is the remarkably brave woman who lost both her legs above the knees in the 7/7 bombings. Only two weeks ago, she said that her anger was directed more at the Government than the bomber, because of the poor levels of compensation that she had been offered. That lady lost 75 per cent. of her blood in the attack. She was in the Douglas Bader unit of Queen Mary's hospital for nine months, and now fears that the cost of being disabled will mean that she can no longer afford to live in London.
Martine Wright's involvement in the London bombing gave her a high profile, but there are nearly 1 million people in wheelchairs in this country. That means that every hon. Member has constituents who are being driven into poverty by disability.
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Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): I do not want to minimise the devastating impact that losing her legs in the London bombing will have had on that young woman, but the vast majority of disabled people are not looking for compensation or for someone to blame. They just want to make sure that the facilities are in place that will allow them to get on with their lives. A person born with a disability has no one to sue and cannot claim extra compensation. Sometimes the sort of argument being presented by the hon. Gentleman can be false, as it is not the reality for most disabled people.
Mr. Hunt: I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Lady is respected enormously in this House for her contributions to disability debates. My point is that Martine Wright was angry about the compensation levels offered to her because she has a mortgage on a flat in London. After suffering her disability, she has been unable to work and is having to consider moving out of London. She does not want someone to sue: she wants to be able to lead her life independently, as well as she can, and I am sure that hon. Members of all parties will agree with that. I am not making a party political point when I say that we have a long way to go before we are able to give people the independent opportunities that they seek.
Mr. Ellwood : Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a difference between people who are disabled in a terrorist act, for example, and those who gain their disability in a different manner? I have met people who were involved in the Bali bombings and in the London incident of 7/7, and my experience is that the criminal injuries compensation scheme is very slow. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) is right that disabled people are not looking for someone to blame, but they do want some compensation so that they can get on with their lives. Some people hurt on 7/7 are still waiting for help with prosthesis, which is not cheap. They are not getting the support from the Government in the timely fashion that they deserve.
Mr. Hunt: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Regardless of the party to which they belong, all hon. Members want to help people with a disability, whether they are born with it or acquire it, so that they can lead an independent life as far as possible. The slowness of compensation is one of the issues that must be addressed if that is to happen.
I return to the broader question of disability and poverty. The Minister and many hon. Members will know that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation carried out an excellent study in 2004 that looked at the link between disability and poverty. It found that, even after all the additional benefits that disabled people get, the costs of being disabled can often amount to an extra £200 per week. It is no wonder that the proportion of disabled people living in income poverty has risen from 27 to 30 per cent. over the past 10 years, whereas the proportions of children and pensioners living in income poverty are going down.
Progress has to be made in other respects as well. In 2006, why do disabled people and their families often have to battle so hard to get the drugs that they need? In particular, people suffering from multiple sclerosis find it enormously difficult to get hold of Sativex, with totally
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conflicting signals coming from the Department of Health and the Home Office. If they live in Staffordshire, Sheffield or Wales, they will also find it difficult to get beta interferon, the crucial drug that can prolong active life if taken in the early stages of the disease.
Another problem is the abuse of people with learning disabilities in care homes. Just this month, in the journal Disability Now, there is a story about a man who was abused in two separate care homes in London in 2003 and 2004. Those abuses happened 10 years after the same man was in the headlines for being assaulted and neglected in the Longeve home in Buckinghamshire. Such people have a right to expect the Government, regardless of which party is in power, to take more action to prevent that sort of abuse.
I stress that the Opposition do not put the blame for all issues facing disabled people at the Government's door. Tackling discrimination is a challenge for any Government, and we recognise that good intentions in that respect have come from all sides of the House. Lord Morris of Manchester, the first Minister for Disabled People and a noted campaigner on disability issues, said that tackling discrimination needs a combination of legislation and practical action. It is in practical action, rather than legislation, that the Government have neglected two vital elements of their role.
The first element has to do with the Government's role as a major employer. With 1.3 million people in the NHS alone, the Government have a fantastic opportunity to set an example, yet some Pathways advisers say that it is much easier to place disabled people in jobs in the private sector than in the public sector, as public sector organisations can be less flexible about making reasonable adjustments. According to the Cabinet Office public appointments unit, although 19 per cent. of people of working age were disabled in 2004, only 3.5 per cent. of the appointments made to the boards of public bodies were of disabled people.
I should like the Government also to look at their crucial role as a deliverer of services to disabled people. Often, the appalling bureaucracy and waste in social service delivery in particular have meant that many disabled people and their families have not received the services that they need. According to a Mencap survey, to which I referred in the House in Work and Pensions questions on 30 March, 48 per cent. of parents of severely disabled children receive no help from social services, 30 per cent. receive less than two hours help a week and 37 per cent. have to deal with eight or more different professionals. A quarter of the money assigned to help parents of severely disabled children is lost in so-called assessment and commissioning. In other words, it does not reach the pockets of the families who need it. I stress that those are not problems concerning the Government's good intentions, but if we are to deliver independent living to disabled people and to keep the promise of life chances, action must match oratory and results must match rhetoric.
Let me outline the Conservative approach to the disability agenda. This summer we shall hold five policy seminars with groups representing disabled people to listen to what they believe should be the basis of the policy. We shall test all policy recommendations against four fundamental questions. First, does a policy help disabled people live as equal and respected members of society? Secondly, does a policy help disabled people
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overcome the barriers that prevent them from living independently? Thirdly, does a policy help disabled people make their own contribution to society, whether in a voluntary or paid capacity? Fourthly, does a policy help, support and value the role of families and carers of disabled people?
The goal set in the first question is the objective of the life chances report and must be at the heart of disabled policy making. We can see from the progress in changing attitudes towards women and ethnic minorities that there is a big time lag between passing legislation, for example the first Race Relations Act was in 1965, and the Equal Pay Act was in 1970, and changing attitudes. We are right at the start of that journey for disabled people. At present, 38 per cent. of employers say that they would not take on someone with a disability. In the case of someone with a mental disability, that number rises to 63 per cent. That kind of discrimination against ethnic minorities, gays or women would be unthinkable, but it is a fact of life for 10 million disabled people. Equality of esteem for disabled people means tackling the deep-seated prejudice held by many people that disabled people are inferior. The social model of disability requires tackling disablism by changing attitudes as well as dismantling the physical barriers that prevent disabled people from getting around.
On the second question that I posed, I am new to this brief but in the short time that I have held it, it has become clear to me that what disabled people want for their lives is no different from what everyone wants for their life: the chance to make choices over their future, to control their destiny, to make the most of their talents and to make a contribution to society. We have a huge mountain to climb if we are to achieve independent living for disabled people. Given that the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 did not cover aviation and shipping, when will the Government come forward with policies to address the fact that three quarters of disabled people never use ferries and two thirds never fly? Why are disabled people often treated as second-class citizens in our hospitals? Why are social services, upon which disabled people depend so much if they are to live independently, so burdened with bureaucracy? The regulatory regime for social services means that social service departments have to prepare reports for the Commission for Social Care Inspection, delivery and improvement standards reports, 26 performance assessment frameworks, including key thresholdswhatever they arebest-value performance indicators for the Audit Commission, comprehensive performance assessments, referrals assessments and packages of care reports for the Department of Health. How can anyone possibly expect social services to concentrate on delivering good services for their disabled clients when their heads must be spinning with all the reports they must write?
Policies on independent living also need to look at housing policy. According to the charity John Grooms, 20 per cent. of physically disabled people are living in a house that they find difficult to move around in, 24 per cent. live in a house from where it is difficult to access shops and a quarter of disabled people who need adapted accommodation do not have it.
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I turn now to the third question I asked. On Tuesday I visited Action for Blind People, a remarkable organisation that helps blind and visually impaired people take the first steps towards independence by setting up their own business. Remarkably, one visually impaired person was setting up a catering business, another was setting up a scanning business and someone else was setting up an office supplies business. Despite this excellent work, there is a huge range of disincentives that stop disabled people engaging in the world of work. Only some of those are dealt with in the incapacity benefit reform Green Paper. For example, a disabled person can trigger a personal capability assessment that could threaten their disability living allowance if they do voluntary or part-time work, or go on a training course. Yet for many people who become disabled and have to stop work
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